Soledad O’Brien, Jay Wright, and the Baltimore Volunteers

September 27, 2009

The last week or so has been a blur. There’s been a ton going on and I’ve been pretty busy. Here’s the highlights:

Jay Wright, Sarah, & I in Baltimore

Jay Wright, Sarah, & I in Baltimore

Two Thursdays ago, I attended a Villanova Alumni event held in Baltimore. I didn’t think I would be able to afford the $45 price tag, but, luckily, I reached out to the message board (it’s for Villanova basketball fanatics) and an alum offered to subsidize the cost for me. Harry Perretta, the Villanova women’s basketball coach, and Jay Wright, the ever-dapper men’s coach, both spoke. I met up with a fellow 2009 alum, Sarah, and we were able to meet and talk with Jay Wright. Mr. Wright is an absolute winner. He gets it. He spoke with us for about five minutes about everything from Villanova basketball and recruiting to what we’re doing in Baltimore as recent alums. Later on, I met with my sponsor for the event and made plans to meet up again for some Villanova football and basketball games in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virgina) area.

The next night, Friday, I joined my housemates to volunteer at the St. Frances Academy 180th Anniversary Banquet. The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first Roman Catholic African-American sisterhood, began the school in 1828 and it’s now the oldest Catholic high school in America. My roommate, Scott, works at SFA as the Assistant Director of their Community Center. CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien spoke to the SFA community full of nuns, Baltimore community members, students, staff members, and visitors from around the world. The Oblate Sisters actually took Ms. O’Brien’s mother in when she was a child and helped raise her. Scott wrote a great post about the banquet and her heartfelt speech.

After Ms. O’Brien spoke, I skedaddled for a mini-reunion of some of my best friends from Villanova. I hadn’t seen many of them since starting JVC and it was terrific to be able to catch up with them. My friends truly represent the state of the Gen-Y recent college graduate nowadays. Some have jobs related to their desired career path and some are in law school as planned. Others, however, are attending graduate school because of the job market, some have taken part-time jobs to help pay the bills as they search for a job, and still others are living at home, fervently searching for anything that will get them out of the house. We talked about old times, how much we miss each other and Villanova, what we’re doing now, and what we plan to do in the future. It was a great night and I’m hoping to be able to visit some of them in Philadelphia and New York soon.

Next, on Saturday night, Nick and Rick, good friends from Villanova living in Baltimore for graduate school at Johns Hopkins, joined me in attending the Red Sox game against the Orioles. There were Red Sox fans everywhere for the game. Now I know what they’re talking about when they call Camden Yards “Fenway Park South” when the Sox are in town. The Red Sox, of course, crushed the lowly O’s and I returned home happy. That happiness was short-lived, however, as the Patriots lost to the Jets on Sunday.

(By the way, Nick, Rick, and Andy have DirecTV with the NFL package and it comes with the “Red Zone Channel”. It switches between NFL games to whichever one has a drive in the red zone (inside the 20 yard line). I just want to go on record as thanking the person who invented that. It’s amazing. Well done. Now if you could only create a program that switches channels automatically when there’s a commercial…)

Anyway, I had a very good week at school, too. The first assignment for Writing Lab was due so I began to grade those. I also had students write an opinion paragraph on whether or not they thought the Johns Hopkins student who killed a burglar with a samurai sword was right in investigating rather than calling the police. Later on, I went over using school and professional e-mail addresses professionally and appropriately, specifically noting that school e-mail is monitored by IT and that it is NOT like using MySpace or Facebook. Rather it should be used for school purposes only. I also advised them to be careful about what they post online and to treat everything online as permanent because, someday, incriminating pictures, updates, or descriptions could be used against them. I hope I opened their eyes a bit!

In between Writing Lab and grading papers, I started helping with SAT Prep courses for juniors and trying to impart the importance of the SAT’s for their future college search and application process. The vast majority of them use the resources available to really try to improve their scores. I really wish that I had class time in high school to practice for the SAT’s!

Along with SAT Prep, I’ve also been tutoring algebra (yes, me, Tom O’Keefe the Communication major, tutoring something involving numbers). Actually, it’s not that bad and I actually enjoyed algebra in high school. (It was the calculus that got me!) Though a tad rusty at first, I’m really enjoying it. I work with the freshmen who need help in math and they’re an absolute pleasure to work with. They truly want to learn and improve their grades. It’s been a very fun and rewarding experience to work with these kids.

Finally, this past Friday, the Bons Seccour Volunteer Ministry house in Baltimore invited us to a cookout at their house in Hollins Park. They also invited Mercy Corps Volunteers, Americorps Volunteers, and Lutheran Volunteers. We had met some LaSallian Volunteers, but had not met any of these folks. I hadn’t realized that there were so many volunteer organizations in Baltimore! There are other people like us here AND they’re really cool people! It actually turns out that one of the Lutheran Volunteer houses is just around the corner from us in Charles Village. Pretty cool stuff. We’re hoping that we can all get together from time to time for some fun service-solidarity.

So, hopefully, that gives you a good idea of what I’ve been up to lately. School is good, teaching is good, my roommates are good, I’m good, and life is good.

The Jesuit Vegetarian Corps?

September 15, 2009

I am a meat-lover. I love steak. I love hamburgers. I love hot dogs. I love poultry. I love seafood. And I especially love bacon. Previous to this year, I would have laughed at the notion of becoming anything remotely close to a vegetarian.

So, when the JVC staff presented us with a fully-vegetarian menu during Orientation, I joked (with others) that JVC actually stood for the “Jesuit Vegetarian Corps”. Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious and the joke was not a complaint at all, but it was definitely a bit different than what I was used to.

As some of you know, JV’s are given $75 per month for food. The vast majority (I think everyone, actually) pools this money with their housemates to maximize funds. Plus, that way, there aren’t four ketchups, five peanut butters, and six separate cartons of milk. That would be tragic waste of refrigerator space!

Who doesn't like Babe?

Because we pool our money, we also try to cook one meal each night for dinner, for everyone. One of my roommates is a vegetarian (since she watched Babe at age nine, actually) and we do our best to make dinners healthy and enjoyable for everyone. For that reason, on top of the relatively expensive price of meats, we’ve stayed with the largely vegetarian diet that the JVC staff introduced to us. Every weekend or so, we splurge a little with extra money left over from buying groceries and buy something like bratwurst and its vegetarian counterpart.

Like I said, I absolutely love to eat meat and it was a big part of my diet, but the switch to a largely vegetarian diet hasn’t been too bad. If anything, I’m eating healthier than ever before. We make things like tortilla-bean soup, baked ziti, vegetarian lasagna, sweat potato salad, and vegetable and bean fajitas. Our diet is full of rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables (not to mention peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches everyday for lunch. I feel like I’m in first grade again and I love it). Although it certainly helps that my roommates are pretty darn good cooks and willing to take risks in the kitchen, I’m thoroughly enjoying my time as a pseudo-vegetarian.

Plus, now, on the odd day that I can have meat, I enjoy it that much more!

Anybody know any good, cheap vegetarian meals that a cooking beginner could pull of for six?

“Hello Class. I’m Mr. O’Keefe.”

September 8, 2009

Apologies for the lack of updates in the past week, but I’ve been rather busy!

Here’s a (somewhat) quick rundown:

Last Monday was Back to School Night at Cristo Rey, a night where parents, guardians, students, faculty, and staff meet for a night of food, introductions, and news about the year. I was impressed by the strong turnout and how everyone seemed to know one another. It was a great family atmosphere and a great way to kick off the school year.

Wednesday was Orientation Day, a half day in which the students visited each of their classes for 25 minutes and took their school ID pictures. Since Writing Lab would not be meeting, I was on photo-duty for most of the day. It wasn’t horribly exciting, but I did get to see all of the students and talk with teachers and staff.

After school, my mom came down from Massachusetts to visit and drop off my car for me. She and I went to the Inner Harbor and I took her to Five Guys because she had never been (and I was craving a bacon cheeseburger due to my largely vegetarian diet). Later on, she joined my housemates and I at the house for dinner. She cooked us some deliciously cheesy vegetarian lasagna and meatballs (served separately of course). I’m really glad she took the trip to come see me. She got to meet my (awesome) housemates and we got to spend some nice time together. Plus, there’s just something special about seeing your mom in person when you’re away from home, even if it is only for a half day.

Thursday was the official first day of school. Because Sophomore Writing Lab doesn’t meet on Thursdays, my only obligations for the day were to cover for a fifth period Junior Writing Lab and my daily Lunch 2 proctoring assignment in the Computer Lab. I escaped both the class and Lunch 2 unscathed. I laid out my rules for respect and, for the most part, the students were very well behaved.

On Friday, during first period, I found out that I would be covering two Sophomore Nutrition/Health classes. Principal Malone suggested that I talk with the students about eating habits and the new cafeteria food in a discussion based class. I wrote up some questions and had the students write down answers for them. Next, I laid down the rules for discussion (respect others when they speak, raise your hand if you would like to speak, no side comments, etc.) and began taking responses from the students. It turns out that the students are very passionate about the cafeteria food and what they eat. There’s a Burger King across the street from Cristo Rey, and it was apparent that Burger King (and other fast food) was a big part of their diets. Luckily, Cristo Rey has made the “BK Lounge” off limits during school so that students begin to eat in a more healthy manner. It was an interesting discussion and I really enjoyed leading it. It made me remember how much I liked discussion based classes in high school and college.

And then… wait for it… THREE DAY WEEKEND!

On Saturday, my housemates and I hosted a Labor Day JV reunion. We had a fantastic turnout that included representatives from 12 of the 15 JVC East houses, FJV’s, JV Recruiters, Jesuits, and even some friends from Villanova. It was packed in our narrow row-house, but everyone seemed to have had an “Ignatian” good time!

On Sunday and Monday (thank you Labor Day Weekend), I simply relaxed a bit, watching some classic movies like Lean on Me and The Mighty Ducks with my housemates and cleaning up from Saturday.

Finally, today, Tuesday, after months of anticipation, I had my first real classes. I had four sections of Sophomore Writing Lab. It went pretty well for the most part. I went over what would happen in class, some ground rules for both me (Rule 0: RESPECT) and the Computer Lab, and logged them into Google Documents. Once the formalities were complete, I assigned a short, three paragraph writing assignment for the remainder of the class. In the first paragraph, I had them write a bit about themselves, their background, and their interests. In the second paragraph, I asked for their short and long-term goals. Lastly, the third paragraph called for examining their strengths and weaknesses when it came to writing. The assignment allowed me to not only get to know them a little more on a personal level, but also to see where they are in regards to writing progress. I’m really looking forward to reading what they had to say.

OK, so that rundown wasn’t quick at all. It was actually kind of long winded, BUT it gives you an idea of how busy it’s been. Since Thursday, I’ve come home every day exhausted and about ready for bed. This whole waking-up-at-6:15am thing is tough!